The margins between a line break that leads to a try and a phase that ends in a ruck reset are smaller than you’d think.
All it takes is one slow pass, one blown line, one bad alignment and one bad decision to let the defence back into the equation.
As an attack, I think your greatest asset is the ability the dictate the use of time and space. The very best attacks in the game almost seem like they’re a second ahead of the defence when it comes to finishing off a sequence of phases.
What you’re seeing is the end result of dozens of good micro-decisions made in sequence with excellent execution of skills.
This is the goal of all good rugby attacks. Having good skills is one thing but knowing where, when and which skills to use is the end game of an elite attack.
It isn’t enough to have the skill, you must know when to use the appropriate skill as it pertains to the moment.
In essence, this is attacking instinct and despite what you might think, instinct can be coached.
Experience, in a lot of ways, is the best instinct coach you could have but only if you’re learning the right things from that experience. This is where a player’s Game IQ comes into play.
Can you learn from your mistakes in a practical way? That isn’t just realising that you made an error but noticing all the things that built up to that moment and then not doing it again when a similar situation arises.
If you know why you made a mistake but keep making that mistake, you’ve hit a wall.
On the other hand, that “aha!” moment, after you realise how and why you made an on-field mistake, is a powerful tool for any player or group of players.
First-Five: “This attack didn’t work because I was too deep at first receiver.” Second-Five: “And then I was too close to you for the next pass so my options were either carrying into their blitz from a weak position or throwing a high-risk pass over the defenders.”
The first-five knows that his depth from the gain line made second-five’s job harder. The second-five realised that his positioning in relation to the first-five narrowed his options down to a high-risk pass option and getting battered behind the gain line.
Those moments lead to a relationship building between players that leads to a better overall attacking unit and more importantly, instinct being built.
When I look at Munster’s attack this season, I see that “instinct” as being the last missing piece, especially in games where Munster have had a lot of possession but failed to convert that stat into tries as fulsomely as they could have.
Munster’s attack has certainly developed since last season, in regards to alignments and intent on certain plays but the kind of development people are looking for doesn’t take a few games or even a full season.
You build the neural networks of attack over multiple seasons. Felix Jones had tried to do that for the last two seasons and, while he was successful in some regards, ultimately I think he couldn’t quite get Munster to where they needed to be.
Attack in rugby isn’t something that can be fixed with hard work alone. Sometimes the changes necessary aren’t in fixing the basics like catch pass, even though I still think Munster need improvement there, it’s in tweaking the overall approach to attack as a collective unit.
That skill, to see an overarching strategy from the micro to the macro scale, is not something that is easy to find but it is exactly what Munster are looking for this summer.
The pieces are there, now we just a chess grandmaster to move them around.